A 16-year-old has been arrested in London in connection with a string of five acid attacks in the space of just over an hour on Thursday night, with one victim left with what police are calling “life-changing” facial injuries. The attacks come as police in London try to tackle a major spike in such attacks in recent years.
The attacks took place in the northeastern boroughs of Hackney and Islington, with the first attack occurring at 10:25 p.m. local time (5:25 p.m. ET). The first incident saw two men spray liquid in the face of a man who was riding a moped before jumping on the vehicle and driving off.
Over the next 72 minutes, they carried out four more attacks on four other males, with the final attack seeing them spray liquid in the face of another moped rider before stealing his vehicle.
London’s Metropolitan Police said Thursday that one male teen had been arrested on suspicion of grievous bodily harm and robbery, and he is currently in custody in an East London police station.
In an interview with LBC on Friday morning, Metropolitan Police commissioner Cressida Dick called the attacks “completely barbaric,” adding, “I don’t want people to think this is happening all over London all the time; it is really not. But we are concerned because the numbers appear to be going up.”
The attacks are just the latest in a spate of similar attacks in the British capital in recent years, with the corrosive liquid used in robberies and gang-related violence. In London alone, there were 431 cases of attacks with corrosive fluids last year, compared with between 162 and 261 cases in each of the previous five years. Police say that upward trend of attacks has continued this year.
The issue was highlighted earlier this year when a man flung acid across a crowded London nightclub, injuring 20 and leaving two people blinded in one eye.
Politicians have called for new legislation to regulate the sale of cleaning products most commonly used as weapons, and appeals to manufacturers to change the formula of corrosive cleaning products to make them more viscous so they can’t be easily flung or sprayed at victims.
Just hours before the assault took place, Labour party MP Stephen Timms called on the issue to be debated in parliament, saying: “Too many people are frightened of becoming a victim. Ministers need to act.” The debate is scheduled to take place on Monday.
The reason acid has become such a popular weapon is because it’s easier to carry than a knife — which has a higher chance of being found by law enforcement — and it’s cheap and accessible.
Last month one London acid attack victim told VICE News: “These scars are not going to disappear. I’m going to have to live with what those two individuals done, whenever I look in the mirror. Whenever I have a happy moment in my life, it’s going to be sort of scarred.”